Travel Safety: Caution vs Paranoia

Travel safety concerns are one of the biggest obstacles that keep people from hitting the road, but more often than not, those worries are the imagined dragons of those who have never actually traveled.

News reports tend to focus on the most sensational tragedies with the grizzliest details, and the inexperienced tend to trust them as accurate depictions of an entire country. Before writing off an entire region, however, watch the local news and see what trouble gets reported there. Does a crime in a neighborhood across town mean that your hometown is entirely unsafe and must be avoided at all costs? Of course not. Likewise, unrest in one rural area of a foreign country doesn’t mean you’d be at risk in one of its larger cities.

In reality, staying safe overseas is not much different to staying safe at home.

Venice Ponte Rialto
Major tourist attractions like the Rialto Bridge always carry greater risks of pickpocketing, but that shouldn’t keep visitors away.

Basic precautions like remaining aware of your surroundings and keeping valuables well-secured go a long way towards reducing your vulnerability, whether you’re in small-town America, a European capital, or a Middle Eastern village.

The primary difference between safety at home and safety in travel, is how familiar you are with your surroundings. Visibly appearing lost or making large displays of wealth can single you out as a tourist and attract the wrong kind of attention. All the same, a little extra effort to blend in here and a touch of feigned confidence there can close the gap.

After all, being prepared for a wrong turn isn’t the same as expecting it.

Case in point: the afternoon a few months ago when a stranger chased me down the street as I was on my way home from work. At first, I thought perhaps I had dropped something and he was returning it. Instead, he cornered me near the back door of my apartment building and said he watches me walk down that street every day and I am “extremely hot.”

As a solo female traveler, street harassment will always be on my mind. The trick is reacting to each case appropriately.
As a solo female traveler, street harassment will always be on my mind. The trick is reacting to each case appropriately.

In that instance, I could have very easily overestimated the threat to my safety. Fortunately, I had the right balance of gut instinct and reason to judge the situation properly: this was in all likelihood a decent enough guy who believed he was complimenting me. I did nothing more than firmly explain that I felt uncomfortable and thought he was being inappropriate. He apologized and left me alone.

Had he been more explicit, tried to touch me, or been more aggressive in any way, a different course of action would have been warranted. As is, this was a threatening situation, not a predatory or menacing one.

Should someone else approach me in a similar manner, paranoia would dictate I react more harshly. But that experience did nothing more than bolster my confidence.

Even though this happened in my hometown, rather than during travel, the same principles apply. Having emergency contact numbers in your phone, knowing self-defense, and carrying a decoy wallet may all be smart precautions. Equally smart is knowing the right time to use them.

Staying safe while traveling is actually quite similar to staying healthy. A few common sense precautions often do the trick.

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